A 2012 Program for International Students Assessment (PISA) found that, out of 64 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, the United States ranks 27th in science and 35th in math.
In attempt to alter these statistics and improve science and mathematics education at the K-12 level, a committee of 18 experts in fields like science, curriculum and education policy began work on the creation of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).
The three-year, state-led effort was officially released to the public in April 2013 with new standards that were “internationally benchmarked, rigorous, research-based, and aligned with expectations for college and careers.”
Five months later, the state adopted the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS), which are expected to fully take effect in the 2018-2019 schoolyear.
Basics of the CA NGSS
The CA NGSS are aligned grade-by-grade with California’s Common Core Standards for mathematics and English language arts and are updated with an understanding of how students learn science.
“The CA NGSS have the potential to transform science education in California necessitating a different way of thinking about teaching and learning,” read the Next Generation Science Standards Systems Implementation Plan for California.
With the CA NGSS, students will be taught science and engineering concepts in grades Kindergarten through twelfth to build on skills learned each year and to introduce science at a young age through hands-on learning.
“The Next Generation Science Standards are a crucial part of California’s plan to improve classroom learning and prepare students for the 21st century,” said California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement. “They emphasize hands-on experiments, integrate science disciplines and encourage students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.”
Education leaders hope the standards will help reduce the opportunity gap for historically underrepresented students in science education and careers and will provide equal opportunities for all enrolled in California’s public education system.
According to the NGSS website, the science standards are based on three dimensions of science learning: science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts and disciplinary core ideas.
Dimension 1, practices, explores the ways scientists investigate the natural world and what engineers do to design and builds systems. The dimension is meant to approach the “inquiry” element of science and engineering to answer questions and solve problems.
Crosscutting concepts, Dimension 2, is designed to help students explore connections across all domains of sciences to uncover parallels and develop a scientifically-based view of the world.
Dimension 3, disciplinary core ideas, focuses on key ideas in science that have importance across multiple disciplines and act as a tool for investigating complex problems and relating to life experiences.
Overall, the dimensions work together to develop an in-depth understanding of concepts while encouraging communication, collaboration and problem solving.
“The world has changed and we need to change our science standards, too,” Torlakson said in a press release. “It’s no longer rote memorization and filling in bubbles on a multiple-choice test, but rather hands-on experimentation, thinking about problems and coming up with your own answers and proof for them.”
In the latest hiccup for the implementation of the CA NGSS, the U.S. Department of Education denied California’s waiver request in December to begin piloting tests for its new science standards instead of continuing current tests based on 1998 standards.
California education leaders sought the waiver to administer the pilot tests, which will not be complete until the 2018-2019 schoolyear, to fifth, eighth and tenth grade students.
However, state law requires schools to release the results of their tests to the public and the federal government sees the tests as incomplete. U.S. Department of Education officials suggested that the state administer both tests to its students until the NGSS tests are ready.
“We reject their insistence that we double-test,” said Torlakson and State Board of Education President Michael Kirst in a joint statement.
According to the statement, education leaders plan to “move full-speed ahead” in implementing the science assessment pilot in 2017.
Santa Clarita Education
Now, Santa Clarita schools are in the science curriculum framework stage of the CA NGSS implementation in curriculum and instructional materials.
In June 2016, College of the Canyons hosted a four-day training session for science teachers in the William S. Hart Union High School District to review upcoming changes to science education.
In the Newhall School District, Saugus union School District and Castaic Union School District, district leaders and teachers are working to increase professional development and begin programs, like robotics and coding, to align with the state standards.
“The board has had the foresight to lay the groundwork for a successful program,” Newhall Superintendent Paul Cordeiro told The Signal of the NGSS in October. “Every school has dedicated science lab staffed by Teachers on Special Assignment (TOSAs).”
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